Genesis 1:1; A Study of God’s Creation Work. How was it done?                   by Jack Kettler

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Christians maintain that this verse in Genesis tells us that God created the universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo, Latin). In this study we will explore the word create (bara) in Genesis 1:1. Some of this study will be technical as we will consult lexical evidence. As an aside, some of the commentary evidence in this study will also deal with how we are to understand God (Elohim, Hebrew) in Genesis. The diligent should not pass over this material on Elohim. Text color highlighting emphasis in this study is mine.

Lexical Evidence

Let’s first breakdown this verse in Genesis chapter one from

 bə-rê-šîṯ בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית          In the beginning     Noun

bā-rā בָּרָ֣א                     created                    Verb

’ĕ-lō-hîm; אֱלֹהִ֑ים          God                        Noun

’êṯ אֵ֥ת   -           Acc

haš-šā-ma-yim הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם  the heavens            Noun

wə-’êṯ וְאֵ֥ת        and      Acc

ā-’ā-reṣ. הָאָֽרֶץ׃            the earth                  Noun

It is helpful to see the word create and its Hebrew rendering בָּרָ֣א and the transliteration bā-rā or bara.

From Strong's Exhaustive Concordance on bara:

choose, create creator, cut down, dispatch, do, make fat

A primitive root; (absolutely) to create; (qualified) to cut down (a wood), select, feed (as formative processes) -- choose, create (creator), cut down, dispatch, do, make (fat). (1)

Some more helpful Strong’s references:

Hebrew Old Testament; Scriptures for 'bara' meaning 'to create' בָּרָא Strong's 1254; from the Hebrew dictionary p. 23.

Greek New Testament; Scriptures for 'ktizo' meaning 'to create' κτίζω Strong's 2936; from the Greek dictionary p. 44.

Regarding bara, we see from Brown-Driver-Briggs:

I. בָּרָא53 verb shape, create (compare Arabic loan-word, form, fashion by cutting, shape out, pare a reed for writing, a stick for an arrow, but also, create; Phoenician הברא CISi. 347 incisor, a trade involving cutting; Assyrian barû, make, create, COTGloss & Hpt KAT2Gloss 1 but dubious; Sabean ברא found, build, DHMZMG 1883, 413, synonym בנה; BaZA. 1888, 58, compare Assyrian banû, create, beget, with change of liquid; Aramaic בְּרָא,, create) —

Qal Perfect Genesis 1:1 19t.; Imperfect יִבְרָא Genesis 1:21,27; Numbers 16:30; Infinitive בְּראֹ Genesis 5:1; Imperative בְּרָא Psalm 51:12; Participle בּוֺרֵא Isaiah 42:5 10t.; suffix בֹּרַאֲךָ Isaiah 43:1; בּוֺרְאֶיךָ Ecclesiastes 12:1; — shape, fashion, create, always of divine activity, with accusative of thing, seldom except in P and Isa2. (2)

Scriptural Evidence from the Old Testament:

Before God created the universe, nothing else existed except God Himself. He created the universe ex nihilo Genesis 1:1.

“By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth… For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalm 33:6, 9)

The two verses from Psalm 33 seem straight forward enough. There is no indication of pre-existing matter in view textually. 

A Scripture in Isaiah will shed light on the use of bara that we see in Genesis?

Isaiah 45:7 is important because of the Hebrew words bara, asah and yatsar appear in this passage which makes it important in interpreting other passages. As said, this verse provides important information to gain a correct understanding of bara in Genesis 1:1.

“I form (yatsar, formed) the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create (bara) evil: I the LORD do (asah, to accomplish) all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

God says that He creates (bara) evil in this verse. This may be a of shock to some readers. We will leave the exegesis of this passage for a future study. Right now, we are concerned with idea of God creating (bara) the physical world and if this implies pre-existent matter or not. Is evil material? Keep in mind, we are not talking about the physical manifestation of evil, but the idea and reality of evil. Did God use pre-existing material to create evil?

Why is it important that God created the entire universe out of nothing? This is important and means that there is no matter in the universe that is eternal. If so, the status of the matter would on equal footing with God since they would both share an attribute of eternality. In Mormon theology for example, matter is actually more eternal than the Mormon god who was at one time a boy before he became the Mormon god.

God alone inhabits eternity and is separate from the creation, which means He is transcendent. He is not to be confused with the creation. This is seen in:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

In Christ’s Church, the members have differing gifts. Some are pastors and teachers.  Some teachers God has raised up who can read the original languages of the Bible and understand the syntax of the ancient languages. Consult the following passages regarding teaching and teachers; Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11.

A commentary is like an in-depth Bible study. We should not be afraid of commentaries. There are good commentaries and bad commentaries. We need to use discernment. We should be like the Bereans and search the scriptures to see what is in harmony with Scripture. “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11 0

Commentary Evidence

It would be helpful now to survey some commentary evidence on Genesis 1:1 from Calvin’s commentary on Genesis:

“In the beginning. To expound the term "beginning," of Christ, is altogether frivolous. For Moses simply intends to assert that the world was not perfected at its very commencement, in the manner in which it is now seen, but that it was created an empty chaos of heaven and earth. His language therefore may be thus explained. When God in the beginning created the heaven and the earth, the earth was empty and waste. He moreover teaches by the word "created," that what before did not exist was now made; for he has not used the term ytsr, (yatsar,) which signifies to frame or forms but vr', (bara,) which signifies to create. Therefore his meaning is, that the world was made out of nothing. Hence the folly of those is refuted who imagine that unformed matter existed from eternity; and who gather nothing else from the narration of Moses than that the world was furnished with new ornaments, and received a form of which it was before destitute. This indeed was formerly a common fable among heathens, who had received only an obscure report of the creation, and who, according to custom, adulterated the truth of God with strange figments; but for Christian men to labor (as Steuchus does) in maintaining this gross error is absurd and intolerable. Let this, then be maintained in the first place, that the world is not eternal but was created by God. There is no doubt that Moses gives the name of heaven and earth to that confused mass which he, shortly afterwards, (Genesis 1:2.) denominates waters. The reason of which is, that this matter was to be the seed of the whole world. Besides, this is the generally recognized division of the world.

God. Moses has it Elohim, a noun of the plural number. Whence the inference is drawn, that the three Persons of the Godhead are here noted; but since, as a proof of so great a matter, it appears to me to have little solidity, will not insist upon the word; but rather caution readers to beware of violent glosses of this kind. They think that they have testimony against the Arians, to prove the Deity of the Son and of the Spirit, but in the meantime they involve themselves in the error of Sabellius, because Moses afterwards subjoins that the Elohim had spoken, and that the Spirit of the Elohim rested upon the waters. If we suppose three persons to be here denoted, there will be no distinction between them. For it will follow, both that the Son is begotten by himself, and that the Spirit is not of the Father, but of himself. For me it is sufficient that the plural number expresses those powers which God exercised in creating the world. Moreover I acknowledge that the Scripture, although it recites many powers of the Godhead, yet always recalls us to the Father, and his Word, and spirit, as we shall shortly see. But those absurdities, to which I have alluded, forbid us with subtlety to distort what Moses simply declares concerning God himself, by applying it to the separate Persons of the Godhead. This, however, I regard as beyond controversy, that from the peculiar circumstance of the passage itself, a title is here ascribed to God, expressive of that powers which was previously in some way included in his eternal essence.” (3)

Now we will look at Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary regarding Genesis:

“The Creation of the World - Genesis 1:1-2:3

The account of the creation, its commencement, progress, and completion, bears the marks, both in form and substance, of a historical document in which it is intended that we should accept as actual truth, not only the assertion that God created the heavens, and the earth, and all that lives and moves in the world, but also the description of the creation itself in all its several stages. If we look merely at the form of this document, its place at the beginning of the book of Genesis is sufficient to warrant the expectation that it will give us history, and not fiction, or human speculation. As the development of the human family has been from the first a historical fact, and as man really occupies that place in the world which this record assigns him, the creation of man, as well as that of the earth on which, and the heaven for which, he is to live, must also be a work of God, i.e., a fact of objective truth and reality. The grand simplicity of the account is in perfect harmony with the fact. "The whole narrative is sober, definite, clear, and concrete. The historical events described contain a rich treasury of speculative thoughts and poetical glory; but they themselves are free from the influence of human invention and human philosophizing" (Delitzsch)…. The biblical account of the creation can also vindicate its claim to be true and actual history, in the presence of the doctrines of philosophy and the established results of natural science. So long, indeed, as philosophy undertakes to construct the universe from general ideas, it will be utterly unable to comprehend the creation; but ideas will never explain the existence of things. Creation is an act of the personal God, not a process of nature, the development of which can be traced to the laws of birth and decay that prevail in the created world. But the work of God, as described in the history of creation, is in perfect harmony with the correct notions of divine omnipotence, wisdom and goodness.” (4)

From this above citation we learn that Genesis account of creation is sober history. Now Keil and Delitzsch will exegete this verse:

“’In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ - Heaven and earth have not existed from all eternity, but had a beginning; nor did they arise by emanation from an absolute substance, but were created by God. This sentence, which stands at the head of the records of revelation, is not a mere heading, nor a summary of the history of the creation, but a declaration of the primeval act of God, by which the universe was called into being. That this verse is not a heading merely, is evident from the fact that the following account of the course of the creation commences with w (and), which connects the different acts of creation with the fact expressed in Genesis 1:1, as the primary foundation upon which they rest. בּרשׁיח (in the beginning) is used absolutely, like ἐν ἀρχῇ in John 1:1, and מראשׁיח in Isaiah 46:10. The following clause cannot be treated as subordinate, either by rendering it, "in the beginning when God created ..., the earth was," etc., or "in the beginning when God created...(but the earth was then a chaos, etc.), God said, Let there be light" (Ewald and Bunsen). The first is opposed to the grammar of the language, which would require Genesis 1:2 to commence with הארץ ותּהי; the second to the simplicity of style which pervades the whole chapter, and to which so involved a sentence would be intolerable, apart altogether from the fact that this construction is invented for the simple purpose of getting rid of the doctrine of a creatio ex nihilo, which is so repulsive to modern Pantheism. ראשׁיח in itself is a relative notion, indicating the commencement of a series of things or events; but here the context gives it the meaning of the very first beginning, the commencement of the world, when time itself began. The statement, that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, not only precludes the idea of the eternity of the world a parte ante, but shows that the creation of the heaven and the earth was the actual beginning of all things. The verb בּרא, indeed, to judge from its use in Joshua 17:15, Joshua 17:18, where it occurs in the Piel (to hew out), means literally "to cut, or new," but in Kal it always means to create, and is only applied to a divine creation, the production of that which had no existence before. It is never joined with an accusative of the material, although it does not exclude a pre-existent material unconditionally, but is used for the creation of man (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 5:1-2), and of everything new that God creates, whether in the kingdom of nature (Numbers 16:30) or of that of grace (Exodus 34:10; Psalm 51:10, etc.). In this verse, however, the existence of any primeval material is precluded by the object created: "the heaven and the earth." This expression is frequently employed to denote the world, or universe, for which there was no single word in the Hebrew language; the universe consisting of a twofold whole, and the distinction between heaven and earth being essentially connected with the notion of the world, the fundamental condition of its historical development (vid., Genesis 14:19, Genesis 14:22; Exodus 31:17). In the earthly creation this division is repeated in the distinction between spirit and nature; and in man, as the microcosm, in that between spirit and body. Through sin this distinction was changed into an actual opposition between heaven and earth, flesh and spirit; but with the complete removal of sin, this opposition will cease again, though the distinction between heaven and earth, spirit and body, will remain, in such a way, however, that the earthly and corporeal will be completely pervaded by the heavenly and spiritual, the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, and the earthly body being transfigured into a spiritual body (Revelation 21:1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:35.). Hence, if in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, "there is nothing belonging to the composition of the universe, either in material or form, which had an existence out of God prior to this divine act in the beginning" (Delitzsch). This is also shown in the connection between our verse and the one which follows: "and the earth was without form and void," not before, but when, or after God created it. From this it is evident that the void and formless state of the earth was not uncreated, or without beginning. At the same time it is obvious from the creative acts which follow (vv. 3-18), that the heaven and earth, as God created them in the beginning, were not the well-ordered universe, but the world in its elementary form; just as Euripides applies the expression οὐρανὸς καὶ γαῖα to the undivided mass (οπφὴμία), which was afterwards formed into heaven and earth.” (4)

Now we will look at the Pulpit Commentary in regards Genesis verse one. The reader will do well to work through this rather lengthy quote:

“Verse 1. - In the beginning, Bereshith, is neither "from eternity," as in John 1:1; nor "in wisdom" (Chaldee paraphrase), as if parallel with Proverbs 3:19 and Psalm 104:24; nor "by Christ," who, in Colossians 1:18, is denominated ἀρχὴ; but "at the commencement of time." Without indicating when the beginning was, the expression intimates that the beginning was. Exodus 20:11 seems to imply that this was the initiation of the first day's work. The formula, "And God said," with which each day opens, rather points to ver. 3 as its proper terminus a quo, which the beginning absolute may have antedated by an indefinite period. God Elohim (either the highest Being to be feared, from alah, to fear, - Hengstenberg, Delitzsch, Keil, Oehler, &c., or, more probably, the strong and mighty One, from aul, to be strong - Gesenius, Lange, Tayler Lewis, Macdonald, Murphy, &c.) is the most frequent designation of the Supreme Being in the Old Testament, occurring upwards of 2000 times, and is exclusively employed in the present section. Its plural form is to be explained neither as a remnant of polytheism (Gesenius), nor as indicating a plurality of beings through whom the Deity reveals himself (Baumgarten, Lange), nor as a plural of majesty (Aben Ezra, Kalisch, Alford), like the royal "we" of earthly potentates, a usage which the best Hebraists affirm to have no existence in the Scriptures (Macdonald), nor as a cumulative plural, answering the same purpose as a repetition of the Divine name (Hengstenberg, Dreschler, and others); but either

(1) as a pluralis intensitatis, expressive of the fullness of the Divine nature, and the multiplicity of the Divine powers (Delitzsch, Murphy, Macdonald); or,

(2) notwithstanding Calvin s dread of Sabellianism, as a pluralis trinitatis, intended to foreshadow the threefold personality of the Godhead (Luther, Cocceius, Peter Lombard, Murphy, Candlish, &c.); or

(3) both. The suggestion of Tayler Lewis, that the term may be a contraction for El-Elohim, the God of all superhuman powers, is inconsistent with neither of the above interpretations That the Divine name should adjust itself without difficulty to all subsequent discoveries of the fullness of the Divine personality and nature is only what we should expect in a God-given revelation. Unless where it refers to the angels (Psalm 8:5), or to heathen deities (Genesis 31:32; Exodus 20:3; Jeremiah 16:20), or to earthly rulers (Exodus 22:8, 9), Elohim is conjoined with verbs and adjectives in the singular, an anomaly in language which has been explained as suggesting the unity of the Godhead. Created. Bara, one of three terms employed in this section, and in Scripture generally, to describe the Divine activity; the other two being yatzar, "formed," and asah, "made" - both signifying to construct out of pre-existing materials (cf. for yatzar, Genesis 2:7; Genesis 8:19; Psalm 33:15; Isaiah 44:9; for asah, Genesis 8:6; Exodus 5:16; Deuteronomy 4:16), and predicable equally of God and man. Bara is used exclusively of God. Though not necessarily involved in its significance, the idea of creation ex nihilo is acknowledged by the best expositors to be here intended. Its employment in vers. 21, 26, though seem ugly against, is really in favor of a distinctively creative act; in both of these instances something that did not previously exist, i.e. animal life and the human spirit, having been called into being. In the sense of producing what is new it frequently occurs in Scripture (cf. Psalm 51:12; Jeremiah 31:12; Isaiah 65:18). Thus, according to the teaching of this venerable document, the visible universe neither existed from eternity, nor was fashioned out of pre-existing materials, nor proceeded forth as an emanation from the Absolute, but was summoned into being by an express creative fiat. The New Testament boldly claims this as a doctrine peculiar to revelation (Hebrews 11:3). Modern science explicitly disavows it as a discovery of reason. The continuity of force admits of neither creation nor annihilation, but demands an unseen universe, out of which the visible has been produced "by an intelligent agency residing in the unseen," and into which it must eventually return ('The Unseen Universe,' pp. 167, 170). Whether the language of the writer to the Hebrews homologates the dogma of an "unseen universe" (μὴ φαινομένον), out of which τὸ βλεπόμενον γεγονέναι, the last result of science, as expressed by the authors of the above-named work, is practically an admission of the Biblical doctrine of creation. The heavens and the earth (i.e. mundus universus - Gesenius, Kalisch, &c. Cf. Genesis 2:1; Genesis 14:19, 22; Psalm 115:15; Jeremiah 23:24. The earth and the heavens always mean the terrestrial globe with its aerial firmament. Cf. Genesis 2:4; Psalm 148:13; Zechariah 5:9). The earth here alluded to is manifestly not the dry land (ver. 10), which was not separated from the waters till the third day, but the entire mass of which our planet is composed, including the superincumbent atmosphere, which was not uplifted from the chaotic deep until the second day. The heavens are the rest of the universe. The Hebrews were aware of other heavens than the "firmament" or gaseous expanse which over-arches the earth. "Tres regiones," says Poole, "ubi ayes, ubi nubes, ubi sidera." But, beyond these, the Shemitie mind conceived of the heaven where the angels dwell (1 Kings 22:19; Matthew 18:10), and where God specially resides (Deuteronomy 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30; Psalm 2:4), if, indeed, this latter was not distinguished as a more exalted region than that occupied by any creature - as "the heaven of heavens," the pre-eminently sacred abode of the Supreme (Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 105:16). The fundamental idea associated with the term was that of height (shamayim, literally, "the heights" - Gesenius, Furst). To the Greek mind heaven meant "the boundary" (οὑρανος, from ὁρος - Arist.), or, "the raised up" (from ὀρ - to be prominent - Liddell and Scott). The Latin spoke of "the con cavity" (coelum, allied to κοῖλος, hollow), or "the engraved" (from coelo, to engrave). The Saxon thought of "the heaved-up arch." The Hebrew imagined great spaces rising tier upon tier above the earth (which, m contradistinction, was named "the flats"), just as with regard to time he spoke of olamim (Gr. αἰῶνες). Though not anticipating modern astronomical discovery, he had yet enlarged conceptions of the dimensions of the stellar world (Genesis 15:5; Isaiah 40:26; Jeremiah 31:37; Amos 9:6); and, though unacquainted with our present geographical ideas of the earth's configuration, he was able to represent it as a globe, and as suspended upon nothing (Isaiah 40:11; Job 26:7-10; Proverbs 8:27). The connection of the present verse with those which follow has been much debated. The proposal of Aben Ezra, adopted by Calvin, to read, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was" is grammatically inadmissible. Equally objectionable on the ground of grammar is the suggestion of Bunsen and Ewald, to connect the first verse with the third, and make the second parenthetical; while it is opposed to that simplicity of construction which pervades the chapter. The device of Drs. Buckland and Chalmers, so favorably regarded by some harmonists of Scripture and geology, to read the first verse as a heading to the whole section, is exploded by the fact that no historical narration can begin with "and." To this Exodus 1. It is no exception, the second book of Moses being in reality a continuation of the first. Honest exegesis requires that ver. I shall be viewed as descriptive of the first of the series of Divine acts detailed in the chapter, and that ver. 2, while admitting of an interval, shall be held as coming in immediate succession - an interpretation, it may be said, which is fatal to the theory which discovers the geologic ages between the creative beginning and primeval chaos.” (5)

New Testament Evidence

The New Testament is the ultimate Divine commentary on the Old Testament. In the New Testament there are verses that teach that God created the world out of nothing. This confirms the teaching in the Old Testament on creatio ex nihilo. For example, John 1:3 says that “all things were made by him (ἐγένετο, egeneto) and without him was not anything made that was made.”

“All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3)

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary has important information on this passage from John:

3. All things, &c.—all things absolutely (as is evident from Joh 1:10; 1Co 8:6; Col 1:16, 17; but put beyond question by what follows).

without Him was not anything—not one thing.

made—brought into being.

that was made—This is a denial of the eternity and non-creation of matter, which was held by the whole thinking world outside of Judaism and Christianity: or rather, its proper creation was never so much as dreamt of save by the children of revealed religion.” (6)

Also, consider Barnes' Notes on the Bible in dealing this passage:

“All things - The universe. The expression cannot be limited to any part of the universe. It appropriately expresses everything which exists - all the vast masses of material worlds, and all the animals and things, great or small, that compose those worlds. See Revelation 4:11; Hebrews 1:2; Colossians 1:16.

Were made - The original word is from the verb "to be," and signifies "were" by him; but it expresses the idea of creation here. It does not alter the sense whether it is said "'were' by him," or "were 'created' by him." The word is often used in the sense of "creating," or forming from nothing. See James 3:9; and Genesis 2:4; Isaiah 48:7; in the Septuagint.” (7)

The next New Testament verse is from Colossians:

“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)

In Colossians 1:16 we read that all things were created by Him and for Him, which is to say, the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, note, there is no indication of pre-existing matter in view in these texts we are surveying. A concept of pre-existing matter has to be smuggled or read into the text.  

More on the Colossians passage from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:

“16. For—Greek, "Because." This gives the proof that He is not included in the things created, but is the "first-begotten" before "every creature" (Col 1:15), begotten as "the Son of God's love" (Col 1:13), antecedently to all other emanations: "for" all these other emanations came from Him, and whatever was created, was created by Him.

by him—rather as Greek, "in Him": as the conditional element, pre-existent and all-including: the creation of all things BY Him is expressed afterwards, and is a different fact from the present one, though implied in it [Alford]. God revealed Himself in the Son, the Word of the Father, before all created existence (Col 1:15). That Divine Word carries IN Himself the archetypes of all existences, so that "IN Him all things that are in heaven and earth have been created." The "in Him" indicates that the Word is the ideal ground of all existence; the "by Him," below, that He is the instrument of actually realizing the divine idea [Neander]. His essential nature as the Word of the Father is not a mere appendage of His incarnation, but is the ground of it. The original relation of the Eternal Word to men "made in His image" (Ge 1:27), is the source of the new relation to them by redemption, formed in His incarnation, whereby He restores them to His lost image. "In Him" implies something prior to "by" and "for Him" presently after: the three prepositions mark in succession the beginning, the progress, and the end [Bengel].

all things—Greek, "the universe of things." That the new creation is not meant in this verse (as Socinians interpret), is plain; for angels, who are included in the catalogue, were not new created by Christ; and he does not speak of the new creation till Col 1:18. The creation "of the things that are in the heavens" (so Greek) includes the creation of the heavens themselves: the former are rather named, since the inhabitants are more noble than their dwellings. Heaven and earth and all that is m them (1Ch 29:11; Ne 9:6; Re 10:6).

invisible—the world of spirits.

thrones, or dominions—lordships: the thrones are the greater of the two.

principalities, or powers—rather, "rules, or authorities": the former are stronger than the latter (compare Note, see on [2402] Eph 1:21). The latter pair refer to offices in respect to God's creatures: "thrones and dominions" express exalted relation to God, they being the chariots on which He rides displaying His glory (Ps 68:17). The existence of various orders of angels is established by this passage.

all things—Greek, "the whole universe of things."

were—rather, to distinguish the Greek aorist, which precedes from the perfect tense here, "have been created." In the former case the creation was viewed as a past act at a point of time, or as done once for all; here it is viewed, not merely as one historic act of creation in the past, but as the permanent result now and eternally continuing.

by him—as the instrumental Agent (Joh 1:3).

for him—as the grand End of creation; containing in Himself the reason why creation is at all, and why it is as it is [Alford]. He is the final cause as well as the efficient cause. Lachmann's punctuation of Col 1:15-18 is best, whereby "the first-born of every creature" (Col 1:15) answers to "the first-born from the dead" (Col 1:18), the whole forming one sentence with the words ("All things were created by Him and for Him, and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist, and He is the Head of the body, the Church") intervening as a parenthesis. Thus Paul puts first, the origination by Him of the natural creation; secondly, of the new creation. The parenthesis falls into four clauses, two and two: the former two support the first assertion, "the first-born of every creature"; the latter two prepare us for "the first-born from the dead"'; the former two correspond to the latter two in their form—"All things by Him … and He is," and "By Him all things … and He is." (8)

Another important New Testament passage is from Hebrews:

“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Hebrews 11:3)

Matthew Poole's Commentary provides insight into this passage from Hebrews 11:3:

“This proves the second part of faith’s description, Hebrews 11:1, that it is the evidence of things not seen; for by it only we understand the creation, which no eye saw. It is the same Divine faith as described before, but as evidencing invisible truths, it communicates a marvellous light to the understanding, and leaves real impressions of it from the word of God, whereby it arriveth unto a most certain knowledge of what is above the power of natural reason to convey, and gives a divine assent to it, such its as is real, clear, sure, and fruitful, different from that of the Gentiles, Romans 1:19-23.

The worlds; touv aiwnav the word noteth sometimes ages, Luke 16:8; the garb and corrupt habit of men who live in them, Ephesians 2:2; eternity: but there, as Hebrews 1:2, it is a word of aggregation, signifying all kinds of creatures, with their several places, times, and periods; things celestial, terrestrial, and subterrestrial; angels, men, and all sorts of creatures, together with all the states and conditions in which they were made.

Were framed by the word of God; heaven, earth, and seas, with all their hosts of creatures, the visible creation and the invisible world, were put into being and existence, placed in their proper order, disposed and fitted to their end, by the mighty word of God: Trinity in Unity the Creator, his powerful fiat, without any pain, or trouble, or assisting causes, instantly effected this miraculous, glorious work; He spake, and it was done, Genesis 1:3,6,9,11,14, &c.; Psalm 33:6,9.

So that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear; the visible world, and all visible in it, were made all of nothing; this reason could never digest. All was produced of that formless, void, dark chaos which was invisible, Genesis 1:2; which void, formless, dark mass itself, was made of no pre-existent stuff, matter or atoms, but of nothing; which differenceth the operative power of God from that of all other agents. See Genesis 1:1 Psalm 89:11,12 Psa 148:5,6, &c.; Isaiah 42:5 45:12,18.” (9)

Unfriendly Christian critic, Bertrand Russell, in his A History of Western Philosophy, in the section dealing with Plato's Cosmogony, (branch of metaphysics) has this to say:

“Thus, it appears that Plato's God, unlike the Jewish and Christian God, did not create the world out of nothing, but rearranged preexisting material.” (10)

It appears that Russell, even though a declared enemy of Christianity has some honesty in dealing with Christian theological positions. Was Bertrand Russell was mistaken in his assessment of the Christian doctrine of creation being different from Platonism? It is important to note that Russell includes Judaism along with Christianity in being separate from Platonism regarding the creation of the world. This is an instance of citing a critic in defense of the biblical teaching that God creatio ex nihilo the world.

A Philosophical Analysis of Creation and What the Alternative is:

Rationalism and the Chain of Being

By R. J. Rushdoony

January 01, 1998

Very early, a deadly notion from Hellenic rationalism entered into the Christian church, namely, the transfer of the idea of the good from ethics to metaphysics. In terms of this, sin became a thinness of being. In the supposed Great Chain of Being, sin was at the bottom of the chain. Instead of being moral opposites, good and evil were metaphysical opposites. Gnosticism carried this notion to strange and fantastic conclusions. In scholastic philosophy, evil is seen as a thinness of being, and, for Dante, in The Divine Comedy in the last round of the ninth circle of hell, where Lucifer is, all are ice-bound.

There is a world of danger in this view, because the concept of the Great Chain of Being means a continuity of being; it means that both God and man share a common being and therefore are open in their rationality one to another. In terms of Biblical faith, there are two kinds of being, created and uncreated, creation and the God of creation. The mind of God is uncreated, man’s mind is created. Because man is a creature in all his being, he bears the stamp of the Creator, even to his image (Gen. 1:26-28). Man’s being is discontinuous with God’s while imaging it with respect to God’s communicable (but not incommunicable) attributes.

To return to the notion that sin and virtue are metaphysical facts, this means that sin leads a person into a thinness of being, and then into virtual or actual non-being. This idea is a useful one for those who wish to dispose of Hell: those in Hell are fading away in their being into non-being and are destined to disappear. But sin is not a slenderness of being but the willful transgression of the law of God. Sin is thus not the metaphysical wasting away of man but his moral rebellion against God and his law. It is a moral, not a metaphysical, declension.

This Hellenic view has important considerations for rationalism. The rationalist does not self-consciously accept all aspects of his Hellenic inheritance. Being non-historical in his approach, he assumes that his reason has all the attributes that philosophy in his day ascribes to it. It is, for example, a shock to read Aristotle after Aquinas and to realize that the Aristotle we know is a very different person from the ancient Greek, a somewhat distant relative, in fact.

In either an early or a later form, however, rationalism presupposes a continuity of being between God, or the ultimate ideas or forms, and the mind of man. It is this impersonal continuity of being that is the mainstay of rationalism and its source of truth. The rationalist does not posit a discontinuity, and, with the rare one who might, he does not see this human rationality as fallen. To do so would destroy his rationalism.

Now if there is a stream of continuity in all of history, that stream, will, in its pseudo-Christian forms, absorb the incarnation of Jesus Christ into its continuity. The results of this absorption are startling. The historical Jesus becomes less important than his continuity in some mystical form. This can take several forms. The sacrament of communion can outweigh the historical atonement. Salvation, instead of being from sin, becomes deification, theosis. The historical incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ is seen as continuing mystically in his church, and so on and on. In Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism, we have varying forms of these beliefs. They represent the transmutation of Christianity from a Hebraic to an alien form. The necessity of Scripture gives way to alien and rationalistic premises which insist on the necessity of the church.

In the Greek Chain of Being idea, human autonomy is possible in a way that it is not under the doctrine of creation. Creationism sees the creation of man and of all things else as declaring the total and absolute dependence of all things on God. Having been created out of nothing, and having brought nothing to their making, all creatures are totally dependent on God and totally subject to his sovereign predestinating will. In the Great Chain of Being, all creatures and beings share in God’s divinity and are aspects of a common being. Men can rise or fall on the Great Chain of Being, and man’s use of Reason determines his status. Man is thus essentially autonomous, and he can rise or fall in the chain as his Reason determines. The determining force is thus not the personal God but a common and impersonal Reason, available alike to God and to man.

The universe of the Great Chain of Being is open in that there is no absolute and determining God over all. Predestination then cannot be a seriously held idea if one is logical. It is an open universe in that man’s Reason can penetrate all things determinatively. The rational is the real in this kind of world. But it is a closed world to the God of Scripture, because he is excluded in the name of rationality from the spheres of philosophy and history. Rationalism can "prove" God but its god is always a dead one, a figment of man’s imagination and Reason. In the earlier years of modern philosophy, men sought to "prove" the existence of God. The logic of their thinking came into focus with Hegel and after Hegel, the philosopher in his thinking as the actual God of being. Nietzsche clearly saw himself as the new god but apparently did not like what he saw!

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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For more additional research that is relevant our study, the serious reader should download a copy of:

CREATION EX NIHILO OR EX MATERIA? A CRITIQUE OF THE MORMON DOCTRINE OF CREATION by Paul Copan                                                                                                    Published in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 9/2 (Summer 2005): 32-54.

Copy and paste the next link into your browser to get the Paul Copan article:

In conclusion, the Westminster Confession of Faith on Creation:

Chapter 4 - Of Creation.

Section 1.) It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, (1) for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, (2) in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good. (3)

(1) Heb 1:2; Jn 1:2,3; Ge 1:2; Job 26:13; Job 33:4 (2) Ro 1:20; Jer 10:12; Ps 104:24; Ps 33:5,6 (3) Heb 11:3; Col 1:16; Ac 17:24


Section 2.) After God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, (1) with reasonable and immortal souls, (2) endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image, (3) having the law of God written in their hearts, (4) and power to fulfill it; (5) and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change. (6) Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; (7) which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures. (8)

(1) Ge 1:27 (2) Ge 2:7; Ecc 12:7; Lk 23:43; Mt 10:28 (3) Ge 1:26; Col 3:10; Eph 4:24 (4) Ro 2:14,15 (5) Ecc 7:29 (6) Ge 3:6; Ecc 7:29 (7) Ge 2:17; Ge 3:8,9,10,11,23 (8) Ge 1:26,28



1.      James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, (Nashville, Tennessee, Crusade Bible Publishers), p. 225.

2.      Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson), p.135.

3.      John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries, Genesis, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), pp. 69, 70.

4.      Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament Genesis, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1985), pp.37, 38; 46, 47.

5.      H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Genesis, Vol. I., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), pp. 2-3.

6.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, John (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 1026.

7.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, John, p. 1021.

8.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, John (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 1316.

9.      Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 860.

10.  Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, (New York, New York, Simon and Schuster), p. 144.

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen” (Romans 16:27). “heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28, 29).

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks. Available at: